With a Stanley Cup championship now on his resumé, Andrew Desjardins is feeling comfortable. Just not "too" comfortable.
The 29 year-old native of Lively has spent the better part of his hockey career defying the odds, reaching the point where he can now look back upon 285 regular season NHL games to his credit. And with a new two-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks inked back in July, that number is expected to rise nicely.
While it's a situation that Desjardins has worked tirelessly to achieve, it remains a double-edged sword, in his mind.
"There's two ways of looking at it," he suggested following a recent workout at the RHP Training Centre. "I always felt like I belonged, kind of right from the beginning. I feel comfortable with my game and know that I can play in the league."
"But with the kind of role that I have to play, there's really no let up, no chance to get too comfortable," Desjardins continued. "There's always people coming through the ranks and chomping at your heels."
"You're there, and you know you belong there, but there is always that incentive to push even harder." In many ways, that very mindset defines Andrew Desjardins. Despite being selected 295th overall in the 2002 OHL Entry Draft, Desjardins somehow forged through with a four year junior hockey career that would see the self-defined "grinder" score no less than 70 goals during his time in Sault Ste Marie.
Stints with the Laredo Bucks (CHL), Phoenix Roadrunners (ECHL) and Worcester Sharks (AHL) would precede his entry to the "show". It represents a four-year stretch that Desjardins is not about to easily forget.
"There's a little bit of that job security, right now, I suppose," he said. "Obviously, I know that there's not going to be a pay decrease. I'm taken care of for two years. But you see guys in this league who score 30 goals, and two years later, they're out of the league."
"It's just not a league where you can be complacent, especially now with the young guys, who work at their game year-round." Like so many who toil away on the third and fourth lines of NHL teams, Desjardins refers frequently to "his role".
Understanding and perfecting it is of paramount importance. "Winning the blue lines," asserted Desjardins. "The way teams play now, it's an aggressive forecheck, so the quicker you can get it out of your end, the better."
"When you have the puck on the half wall, or you get that puck up near the blue line, you have to advance it. Those can sometimes be game-winning plays. And at the other blueline, getting it deep to create the forecheck."
He talks of the importance of "checking", though not in the sense of hurtling one's body uncontrollably through the air. Having good stick position, maintaining body position, positional checking are all figures of speech that Desjardins and others of his ilk can recite in their sleep.
As he prepares, with his teammates, to defend Lord Stanley's mug, the local product does so while looking back on a season of highs and lows. On March 2nd (2015), Desjardins was traded from the San Jose Sharks, the only NHL team he had ever called home.
"There's always that shock when it happens," he stated. "I was shocked because it happened so late at the deadline. But you always have a little bit of that feeling based on the way things are going."
From the outside looking in, especially with the benefit of hindsight, one might imagine the pure exilaration that Desjardins would experience moving to a Blackhawks team that had already displayed, in recent years, its ability to emerge victorious through the gruelling marathon that is the NHL post-season.
Yet his focusat the time of the trade, was far more pragmatic. With a son at home who had not yet celebrated his second month on earth, it was family concerns that came to mind, first and foremost.
Later in the day, came the excitement. "People say the grass isn't always greener on the other side, but in my case, I would say it was, for that time that I was there." If San Jose and Chicago could boast of lineups, which on paper, in recent years, both justified legitimate Stanley Cup hopes, only one could brag of making good on those hopes.
"There's obviously a special thing that they have," said Desjardins. "I've only won it once, so I don't know for sure, but their core group of guys, they get that hunger, a feeling around the room - you get hooked on winning."
"With these guys, there is just no doubt that they're not going to lose." It's a feeling that he dreams of sensing again. It's part of the reason that Desjardins opted to re-sign with Chicago, with other suitors almost certainly on his doorstep.
"We're comfortable, our family, in Chicago," he said. "We love the city, we love the organization. They really take good care of you. Good teammates, good coach - I feel like I am in a pretty good situation there."
"Yes, there is money involved, but for me personally, if it's not substantial, I would like to be in a good spot with my family, to be happy." Somewhere to feel comfortable. Just not "too" comfortable.